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LETR; a wasted opportunity?

In the words on Felix Frankfurter “In the last analysis, the law is what the lawyers are. And the law and the lawyers are what law schools make them.”

Frankfurter’s statement illustrates the need for continuous reassessment and improvement of the legal education system. On Tuesday, the highly anticipated report, the Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) was unveiled, after two years in the making.

LETR is a combined project of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the Bar Standards Board (BSB) and ILEX Professional Standards (IPS) and will have a significant impact on the future generation of solicitors and barristers.

With the last training review being published over 30 years ago, one must question, did LETR step up to the mark and meet expectations?

Why did LETR disappoint?

Many of us were under the assumption that specific elements of the legal education system would be addressed and alternatives would be proposed in this report. Surely, the system for barrister training had to change; the dysfunction associated with only one in five graduates going on to practice as a barrister should facilitate the need to alter this arrangement. Or so we thought.

Many of us also blindly assumed that amendments to solicitor training were sure to take place and that the title “solicitor” would be given following completion of an LPC. I think I can safely say that I wasn’t the only one supporting the idea of throwing the burdensome two-year training contract out of the proverbial window. To our surprise, these matters did not receive the attention they deserved, with the writers throwing a passing nod at the elephant in the room rather than striking up a proper conversation.

The review has since been described as a “missed opportunity” by Elisabeth Davies, the chairwoman for the Legal Services Consumer Panel. She asserts that the review was the chance for consumer education and training to be redesigned in a way that would benefit the generations to come. In actual fact, not much has changed.

Nigel Savage, the president of the University of Law, described the review as “competent but with no surprises”.

Many assert that LETR is just a lengthy verbose report that simply reiterates outdated proposals. The report has also received a considerable amount of criticism for ruling out periodic accreditation for practitioners in high risk areas of law.

What does the future hold?

Overall, it seems that LETR did not live up to public expectations and many feel that the 365 page report, that was delayed several times and took 2 years to produce, fell short of the mark. With 2,000- 3,000 students a year completing an LPC with very few prospects in the legal field, what does the future hold for the next generation of solicitors and barristers?

The report did outline alternative routes for entering the legal field, although there are some concerns that many law firms out there would prefer to take legal graduates over new apprenticeship schemes. Will apprentices ever receive the same level of respect in a professional environment? I’ll have to get back to you on that one.

With the growing rift between legal education and the legal profession, the need for positive change has never been greater. I find myself wondering, how can training methods be truly revolutionised by those that lack exposure to the actual profession, particularly on this scale? From what I gather, the destiny of LETR may be just to sit on the shelf gathering dust like many of its predecessors.

 

Sources

'The legal education training review is finally here and not much has changed.' Alex Aldridge, The Guardian, 26/06/2013

'Welcome', letr- legal education and training review

'Revealed at last: details of the Legal Education and Training Review.' Jonathan Ames, The Lawyer, 25/06/2013